In this post, I’d like to recommend some interesting videos and articles that discuss games for learning.
Why we trust games more than the school system
James Paul Gee, Professor of Literacy Studies in the Department of English at Arizona State University makes an interesting point that we would never think of testing someone who has spent hours honing his/her skills on Halo for Halo proficiency while it’s the norm to test children after teaching them school subjects like algebra. From Gee’s perspective, this reflects a lack of trust in the way we’re teaching our children (which may be well-founded but isn’t necessarily addressed by the way in which we are assessing/testing).
Gee sees a schism developing between the multitude of available digital learning tools, including games, with their power to engage learners as creators and problem-solvers, and traditional school systems where learners are often disengaged. Pressure for more convergence may force a tipping point.
Serious games, serious assessment
In a 2010, TED talk, game theorist, Tom Chatfield points out that games provide a unique opportunity to assess what matters to learners to identify the most effective reward schedule.
If it smells like school/training….
In a video for the New Learning Institute, game scholar Constance Steinkuehler describes some critical errors that can be made when adding games to a learning program: “If it smells like school, kids won’t touch it. If you talk at them, it won’t work.” You can substitute the word “training” for the “bigger kids” out there. I think this also applies to an innate resistance workers may feel about being “gamed” into receiving instruction.
Steinkuehler notes that rather than viewing a natural interest in games as a means to achieve an educational goal, teachers should view themselves as community organizers. Thus, the first step should be to consider what learners as a community would like to accomplish and then to marshal resources that facilitate these goals. Steinkuehler recounts the striking empowerment that intense engagement in learning through games affords, with the potential to convert someone who reads at a 6th grade level to someone who can tackle 15th grade level text when presented in the context of a game.
What’s in a word? Passionate affinity spaces vs. communities
In an interview with Henry Jenkins, James Paul Gee steers away from the term “community,” which he believes has certain idealized connotations. He prefers the phrase “passionate affinity spaces” instead.
Gee states that:
Passionate affinity spaces tend to follow the Pareto Principle (20% of the people produce 80% of the outcomes, 80% produce 20% of the outcomes), while school classrooms tend to follow (enforced) bell curves. I want to stress not just multiple forms and routes to participation, leadership, and mentorship in passionate affinity spaces, but also the opportunity for all people in the space to become producers, designers, and creators, as well as mentors to others.
In this article, Gee describes the need to nurture “design thinking” and “design literacies” to create learners who understand technology well enough to transform it.
Considering 7 core concepts to create compelling learning
Although subtitled “Seven Core Concepts to Creating Compelling Products,” this Slideshare by Amy Jo Kim is very relevant to instructional design.
The seven concepts (somewhat modified to consider learning games) include:
- Know who’s playing/learning (What’s fun/motivating for them? What do they need/want?)
- Build fun, pleasure, and satisfaction into your core activity loop
- Change the user experience over time (a good game/learning experience takes the player on a journey)
- Build a system that’s easy to learn but hard to master
- Use game mechanics to light the learners’ way towards mastery (i.e., make the path to success visible)
- As players progress, increase challenge and complexity: create the conditions for flow
- Embrace intrinsic motivators like power, autonomy, and belonging (creating real value for players/learners)
What’s in a word? Serious games vs gamification
This article by Forrester Research describes some perceptions of the differences between “serious games” and gamification and proposes some cautions before entering into a gamified world. (I don’t think that gamification is necessarily all about extrinsic motivation but the proof’s in the individual games that are created versus the labels we attach to them.)
Games for learning wellness behaviors
A recent JAMA article by Read and Shortell (2011) (“Interactive Games to Promote Behavior Change in Prevention and Treatment”) reviews games targeting health behaviors, describing the proliferation of games developed for mobile devices. The authors make an important point:
Successful entertainment game designs draw on a well-understood set of features, such as a narrative setting that motivates goals, systems of feedback, points, levels, competition, teamwork, trading, and often, self-representation using an avatar. The extent to which a game is engaging (and useful for health objectives) depends on the skill with which these are implemented as a package for a particular audience.
It’s a consideration worth noting whether we consider games for health, training, or K12 education, and whether we call a platform a “serious game” or a “gamified experience.” Ultimately, the success of a game for learning lies in its design and that design has to be firmly based in the needs and wants of the target audience.
Some additional resources
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